Lawsuit Filed in Indiana Medical Helicopter Crash

INDIANAPOLIS - The family of a flight nurse killed with two other people when a medical helicopter crashed last summer has filed a lawsuit on behalf of the woman's two children.

The lawsuit, which seeks compensation for the death of Sandra Pearson, 38, maintains that the helicopter's main rotor blade either contacted unmarked power lines or "spontaneously separated without contact," causing the deadly crash.

Pearson died Aug. 31 along with pilot Roger Warren, 43, and paramedic and base manager Wade Weston, 38, when the rotor came off their Bell 206 Longranger before it crashed in a field outside Burney, about 40 miles southeast of Indianapolis.

Attorneys hired by National Bank of Indianapolis filed the lawsuit in Marion Superior Court last week on behalf of Pearson's two children, Gabrielle, 8, and Garrett, 10.

"These helicopter crashes have real human life consequences," said Gary Robb, a Kansas City, Mo., attorney representing the plaintiffs. "I'm going to make sure these children do not have any kind of financial hardship over the death of their mother."

The lawsuit names as defendants Rolls-Royce, the helicopter's engine maker; Decatur County REMC, the utility responsible for maintaining power lines in the area; Rush Memorial Hospital, which dispatched the helicopter; and Bell Helicopter Textron, the rotor manufacturer.

Rush Memorial Hospital contracted with Missouri-based Air Evac EMS, which owned and operated the helicopter, to provide air ambulance services.

The National Traffic Safety Board is still investigating what caused the rotor blades to break in the crash.

According to the NTSB's interim factual report, the crew had left a fundraising event at a fire station in Burney, destined for the aircraft's base in Rushville.

Witnesses said they saw helicopter parts separate from the craft in flight before it crashed about a mile from the fire station. The rotor blades were found broken on the ground about 200 yards from the helicopter's wreckage.

Maintenance records show the helicopter was inspected 10 days before the crash, the same day a low rumble and vibration from the rear of the aircraft was detected.

The lawsuit alleges that engine maker Rolls-Royce failed to properly warn operators that a rumbling noise or vibration "was not engine-related but could signify an impending fatigue fracture of the main rotor blade."

The suit accuses Bell Helicopter of selling the helicopter's rotor blades in defective condition. It also alleges that Rush Memorial Hospital dispatched the helicopter on an unsafe flight path, sending it on a non-emergency mission and failing to develop flight-risk evaluation programs.

Greg Hubbard, a spokesman for Bell Helicopter, said Monday the Texas-based company is cooperating with the NTSB and will not comment until the agency issues its crash findings.

Rolls Royce also declined to comment Monday, citing the ongoing investigation. Rush Memorial Hospital officials declined to comment, saying they had not yet received a copy of the lawsuit.

The suit also states that Decatur County REMC failed to properly mark the overhead power lines for air traffic. Robb, the Kansas City lawyer, said contact with the lines could have caused the rotor to break, but according to the factual report, one witness said the helicopter cleared a set of power lines just before the crash.

Don Schilling, president and general manager of Decatur County REMC, said the member-owned electric cooperative believes it is not the owner of the power lines mentioned in the lawsuit.

"It's obviously a tragic situation -- people lost their lives in this accident. However, we believe those lines are not owned by us. We believe it's owned by another utility," he said.

Schilling also said the REMC had no reports of damage to lines or outages on the day of the crash.